Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Published: 21st September 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Hodder Children’s Books
Pages: 340
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It’s time to fight like a girl!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her high school teachers who think the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mum was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates Moxie, a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond and spread the Moxie message. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realises that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

I had been reading a lot of feminist and activist books and I picked this up expecting it to be the kind of book that ignites a fire within me and it did…to a point. One possible reason for this was that I have not experienced the American school system which this novel is so deeply based around so I couldn’t relate in that sense or figure out if things really get this extreme. I read so many American books set in high school and it is the wildest thing to read about these experiences I sometimes can’t tell whether it is just a combination of a variety of experiences or whether all these situations and these people could exist in real life at the same time. I have seen the same formula over and over again I am convinced that it is actually how American school systems work and it’s the most bizarre thing as an outsider to read about.

The other reason I think I wasn’t as impressed was that Viv is the kind of quiet girl who never does anything wrong, doesn’t stand out too much so for her to do anything it is a big deal and she does it in small steps, unsure where to go next and worried about the steps she does take. I wonder if Viv had had a stronger personality it would have changed the story at all. It would suit the character to do something like that so perhaps having timid Vivian makes it more powerful in what she does. It read like My First Feminism and I appreciated what she was doing, but it didn’t grab me. To Mathieu’s ’s credit, it did at times remind me of my own high school experiences, bra snapping was clearly a worldwide thing for teenage boys.

It’s not just the Straight White Girl who fights injustice, Mathieu’s covered the women of colour and lesbian perspectives but it’s brief and almost unnatural. The different perspectives help Viv and the readers understand that everyone has different experiences and understanding that is important. I can’t decide whether this is good inclusion and self-awareness, or a message but it stood out as being Mathieu’s attempt to cover all the bases and it took me from the book briefly because it felt like a side note for the reader to remember.

I feel a bit bad for critiquing this because it wasn’t terrible, but it just fell flat. There were positives, I admired what Vivien was aiming to achieve, and glad she managed to start the revolution she was after. In that it was a success. I don’t suppose Mathieu’s was trying to ignite the reader’s reaction, though maybe she was, but I think you don’t need to have had a strong reaction to enjoy it. I think perhaps I had had this novel build up as a girl power feminist novel that I expected it to pull a few more punches.

You can purchase Moxie via the following

QBD | Book Depository | Booktopia

Angus & Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

 

Dorothy Must Die (#1) by Danielle Paige

Published: 1st April 2014 (print)/1st April 2014 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Collins/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 452/14 hours 12 minutes)
Narrator:  Devon Sorvari
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado – taking you with it – you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still a yellow brick road – but even that’s crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm – and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.

I’ve been trained to fight.

I have finally gotten around to reading this book and it is brilliant! This isn’t quite a reimagining of a classic, what it is instead is a look at what happened after the story has finished and the original narrative comes to a close.

There is so much to love about this story. I think Paige has been very clever in playing with the known story of Dorothy and Oz and she has transformed it into a new story in its own right while still connecting to its origins. It is dark and funny and fascinating to read about just how far Oz has fallen since we last saw it and what happened to the golden girl who saved a world.

Set in the present day we are introduced to Amy Gumm, a girl who lives in Kansas in less than ideal circumstances with her neglectful mother. When a hurricane hit their trailer, Amy is transported to Oz where you soon discover things are not quite right. Originally you think this is a simple reference to how Dorothy first got to Oz, but as the story goes on you learn it may not have been entirely an accident which adds more questions and theories to a story already filled with them.

I enjoyed Amy’s character, she knows the story she has entered into but she doesn’t know it inside out, she also doesn’t fall into the frustrating trap of accepting her surroundings instantly where after a day or two gets the hang of things. Paige retains the part where Amy is out of her comfort zone, and while she is adaptable, at times she also defies rules and logic to do what she things is right based on her real world knowledge.

There are some repetitions and some moments where Amy’s character frustrates you, but these moments are few and for the most part not too disruptive. I enjoyed her exploration of the world and how we’re never sure who we are meant to trust. Everyone has their own motives and with Amy a newcomer, she has often no choice to trust who she can or trust no one.

The pace is gradual but the story moves along with ease. Paige doesn’t jump time unnecessarily and each day plays out but never feels drawn out or boring. No part of this book felt boring; the surprises are unexpected and there are numerous mysteries to keep your mind turning over. I loved how twists came from nowhere and I never found myself predicting things, or if I did I was so far off base it didn’t count.

I loved the contrasts between the characters we know and love and what they have all become in Dorothy’s new Oz, and I love the exploration of the surrounding Oz area and the new characters we interact with. This is one reason to drive you into the rest of the series because I need answers about how this happened and what happened to end up with the world we’re introduced to. If you have been thinking about reading this book I promise it will be worthwhile, and if you love classic stories getting reimagined then this story is for you.

You can purchase Dorothy Must Die via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Fishpond | QBD

Loving Lakyn (#2) by Charlotte Reagan

Published: 20th November 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Inkitt
Pages: 206
Format: eBook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Lakyn James is sixteen years old and hating every second of it. He was supposed to be done, he’d tapped out. End of story, unsubscribe here. Suicide “attempt”, they said. His intentions had no “attempt” in them. 

Re-entering normal life after ‘trying’ to take his own is weird. Especially when the world keeps going like it never happened. He still has to eat breakfast, go to school, and somehow convince a cute boy that he’s too damaged to date. 

Scott White comes with his own problems, namely a habit of drinking too much and being indecisive about rather he wants in the closet, or out of it. Lakyn can’t stand him; he also can’t help smiling when Scott’s around. 

Unfortunately – or fortunately – for Lakyn, life has decided to give him a second chance. He’s not happy about it, but maybe, with a lot of hard work and a good therapist, he can learn to be. And maybe he can hold Scott’s hand at the same time. 

No promises though. 

It’s called Loving Lakyn and genuinely one sentence in I was in love with Lakyn. This is probably a biased opinion because I’d fallen in love with him reading Just Juliet so you can understand my absolute joy when I discovered there was another story about those characters and him in particular. This is a prequel/overlap kind of story from Just Juliet. It follows Lakyn’s story but we also see the backstories of Juliet and Scott which were only briefly touched on in the first book. Knowing how it all ends takes nothing away from how fascinating and brilliant this book is.

There are a few content warnings to be aware of, Reagan has a full list available here, A few obvious ones from the blurb and a few not. There are scenes of cutting, constant reference to suicide attempts and scars, and references to neglect. There are also sex scenes, nothing overly graphic, but there are details. I actually liked how these sex scenes are written actually, they are tasteful but honest and Reagan doesn’t make it anything other than what it is. I promise this isn’t all dark and depressing, Reagan balances out the heavy subjects alongside love and friendship and family. Lakyn is the central character and with the reader inside his head your understanding is unavoidable, and this is where you see how much he is trying to heal but doesn’t know how, he hasn’t got the emotional tools or the strength to do it on his own.

There are brilliant, powerful sentences that pack a punch straight to your heart as well as the story. It’s an emotional journey but it’s enthralling to see Lakyn go through it. Reagan doesn’t give us easy solutions and drives home that Lakyn’s is a complicated life to recover from. I saw parts of myself in him as well as read about things I’ll never be able to understand, but Reagan is brilliant at telling his story. You understand his struggle and it never feels fake, contrived, or dramatised. It felt real and your heart will break for him.

Reagan’s writing is addicting and I loved falling back into this world. I smiled every time I picked up this book and it was the hardest thing to draw myself away from. Every spare minute I had I read, even if it was only another couple of pages. I was drawn in by Lakyn’s story and whether it was the hard parts, or the mushy adorable romance parts it was fantastic. Lakyn and Scott together always made me smile before, and just seeing them together again brought back those memories but this time with greater understanding of their connection.

While Lakyn is not the strongest emotionally, he is also someone who knows who he is. He is not ashamed of being gay, he doesn’t announce it to the world because for him it’s both not a big deal and none of anybody’s business, but he won’t let anybody make him feel ashamed of it either. I related in some way to Lakyn and Reagan expresses his thoughts and feelings in a believable and frankly unsettlingly familiar ways. It just goes to show how believable these characters are. They could be anybody, they could be people we know and that’s what make their stories so beautiful and heartbreaking because they felt real.

With the other characters, it was nice to see Juliet’s journey and understand who she is, especially since we didn’t explore that as much the first time around. I still felt that Rick and Mr James weren’t fleshed out as much as they could have been. I understand that the story focuses on the teenagers and their lives, but so often Rick and Mr James were a bundled deal and felt like a single character. Granted they are slightly more fleshed out this time since they are in this story a bit more, but Rick I think gets left behind.

Despite the big subjects there are also fun and heart-warming moments and the exploration of a new relationship. This story deals wonderfully with the complications of having a closeted relationship, where one person is not ready to be who they are publically. While this is Lakyn’s story, Reagan does a great job exploring Scott’s emotional journey and past. His struggle with accepting his identity and his conservative parents, and his social life at school which he is trying to protect. About halfway through I wanted a third book that focused on Scott’s back story, but by the end of the book it was so beautifully fleshed out alongside Lakyn’s that I felt I understood Scott a lot as well.

Teenage boys falling in love with each other is adorable because they’re both dags and they don’t know what they’re doing and seeing them flounder can be the best thing to read about. I was grinning and making ‘aww’ noises over these two, I was reading page after page with a smile on my face but I loved it. It’s not cheesy it’s adorable and I want more of it.

You can purchase Loving Lakyn via the following

 Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Book Depository

 Fishpond | B&N | Publisher | Book Bub

 

Just Juliet (#1) by Charlotte Reagan

Published: 17th September 2016 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Inkitt
Pages: 224
Format: eBook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Juliet represents the road less travelled. Will Lena take it? 

Lena Newman is 17, her best friend’s a cheerleader, her boyfriend’s a football player, and as far as everyone is concerned, her life is sorted. But that’s before she befriends the new girl. Juliet is confident, slightly damaged, drop-dead gorgeous and a lesbian. 

Lena realizes that her interest goes beyond just friendship. She sets off on a path of self-discovery where the loyalty of those closest to her will be tested. 

I am in love with this book. It’s not perfect but it makes you feel warm and fuzzy and as a person who doesn’t like super romancey stuff, this is a sweet and adorable romance and it makes you all squishy inside.

The story takes place over the final year of high school for Lena and her friends. From the first day of school through the weeks and months Reagan progresses the story through the year, often jumping time. It doesn’t feel rushed but it keeps a good pace, the whirlwind of new friends and a budding romance pulls you along comfortably.

I liked how Reagan uses Juliet and a focal point from the get go. She’s the thing that’s caught Lena’s eye and it starts the story with intrigue and interest. From there we enter Lena’s world and discover her friends and her family and her discovery about who she really is.

Lena’s exploration about her own attraction and sexuality is slow and believable, having gone through 17 years of thinking one way it’s a lot to process when you start thinking another. I enjoyed this slowness between Lena and Juliet, it’s a great progression from friend to girlfriend and with self discovery thrown in the mix it’s bound to take some time. I liked that Reagan allowed Lena time to be confused and to be uncertain, and having a confidant to explore her feelings.

There are some excellent characters to fall in love with. Lakyn, Scott and Juliet are great, complex characters and people who Lena feels a connection with, something with Reagan brings across in her writing. I often felt that Juliet, Lakyn and Scott were more developed characters than Lena’s existing friends. Even though I understand we focus on them a lot more and have time to develop their characters, having these other friends as a featured part of the story meant they had a role to play in Lena’s life. Best friend Lacey is a full enough character, her personality is a curious choice but Reagan makes it work. But there are side characters in Georgia and Kiki who get almost no personality or story. They are portrayed as being slightly disinterested in Lena’s life I think to save them having to be fleshed out, but Reagan gives us Georgia, who we get an almost throwaway sentence that she is a teen mum and I found myself wanting to know more about her, where is this baby boy? How is she coping and wouldn’t her friends be more interested in how her kid is? I wanted her story as well. I don’t need it in a new book, though I wouldn’t say no, but I just wanted her more fleshed out because Reagan gave her such a big story. Compared to Kiki who gets no real drawcard or any depth and so I wanted nothing from her but honestly, I often forgot about them both.

Characters I did love were Lakyn and Scott. I loved those boys so much and from the moment they’re introduced I felt connected to them. Their fun relationship is adorable to see and while Lena and Juliet were wonderful as well, there is a delightful charm about those boys that made me smile.

There are a few tough topics briefly discussed such as drug use, and a brief discussion about suicide, but it isn’t the focus of the story and instead helps to expand on characters and their lives. Reagan is also clear on how talking is important and seeking professional help has changed things for the better so nothing is glorified but neither is it dismissed.

A small thing I loved was the chapter headings. They are done in the wonderful style of phrases and sentences which not only relate to the chapter events, but are also said by characters. It was a clever change from an overall title, or basic numerals. Another things Reagan did really well was the ending. In an epilogue but not an epilogue way she manages to wrap up all these characters lives in a lovely way that feels true to the people we’ve come to know.

I’m really glad I picked this book up because not only does it have wonderfully real characters, but it has diversity and challenges that are relatable to everyone, even if they aren’t teenagers.

You can purchase Just Juliet via the following

 Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery | Book Bub

Angus & Robertson | Book Depository

 Fishpond | B&N | Publisher | Audible

Reaching Avery (#2) by Jaclyn Osborn

Published: 24th March 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 313
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Maverick Blake is the typical jock: athletic, handsome, extroverted, and popular. But there is so much more to him. Beneath the pretty face, there’s a guy who loves science, theater, and comic books. He wishes people would look past his appearance and see him for who he truly is, but most are only interested in the surface.

Avery Kinkead is used to people disappointing him—hurting him. He sees the world through leery eyes, and doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to escape the demons in his own mind. He has suffered more than most people twice his age, and his scars—both mental and physical—leave him untrusting of everyone, except for his younger brother and mom.

When Maverick meets Avery, he sees a broken boy who tries desperately to stay invisible, but Mav can’t stay away. Not when he sees the shadows behind Avery’s blue eyes, and the mistrust in his every glance.

It starts with a simple friendship, but soon, their hearts start getting involved, and things get complicated. As if graduating high school wasn’t hard enough.

I wanted to love this, I tried to love this! I did! I wanted to get caught up in this story about these two boys who are both pushing against stereotypes and see them come together and be their best selves. Instead what I got was a story that is good in concept but average in execution. While Osborn’s previous book in this series wasn’t perfect either I could look past the structural and writing side of it for the cute teenage romance. I couldn’t do that here, this was a much harder book to read because of the writing issues, it was hard not to notice when sentences and dialogue felt unnatural and unbelievable.

Initially I was able to look past the writing and tried to fall in love with Maverick and Avery, I enjoyed their flirtation and their uncertainty as they explored their feelings from afar. I also enjoyed when they finally came together because Osborn took it slowly and used her character’s experience and histories to guide their interactions. I persisted because I understood what she was trying to do, I could see the story there even if it wasn’t expressed the most eloquently or cleanly and it was good for a while, but towards the end of the novel it became too much. I couldn’t separate the narrative from the romance, the writing is corny but corny in a bad way. I couldn’t hear the character voices and often it felt like a collection of motivational quotes and life affirming optimism. Which isn’t terrible, having characters who are optimistic is fine, but there needs to be balance and a less in your face way of expressing it.

I was confused because Osborn wrote the first book fine, not perfect but better. There were so many things happening in this that were good, there was a lot about being yourself and not worrying what other people thought, there’s self doubt, imperfect family dynamics, there’s deeper darker things like self harm and abuse, but Osborn hasn’t navigate these topics in a strong enough way. The components are all there that could have made a great story, it just needed stronger editing and a bit of guidance.

There was diversity in the characters which was great to see, Osborn has brought together a group of people who are all different in the school social groups but brings them together to form strong bonds all the same. It was good to see cameos and revisits to characters we’d been introduced to in Noah’s Song and it was good to see how the story continued.

Avery was a sweet character and I think he had the best voice of them both, I enjoyed his chapters more because there was a bit more realness to him. Not that Maverick’s didn’t, but it felt less explored and shallow. There was also a great representation of all the secondary characters. You got a sense of all the characters involved and could understand who they were, even if they were only there briefly.

I did enjoy this book, I was caught up in the early days of romance between Maverick and Avery which is adorable at the heart of it. I liked what Osborn was trying to achieve, but I’m just disappointed it didn’t quite reach the mark, it has the possibility of being a wonderful book.

You can purchase Reaching Avery via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

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